Thursday, March 29, 2012

The History of Yoga Mats, Haruki Murakami, 1Q84, and Kino Shorts

In a recent post, Steve over at the Confluence Countdown offers us a concise history of the modern sticky yoga mat. According to Steve's research, the first historically-recorded use of a sticky yoga mat was by Angela Farmer in 1982. Steve writes:

"She [Farmer] seems to be credited with being the first person to grab a piece of “carpet underlay” — you know, that multi-colored squishy material — and cut it down to size. She did so when teaching in Germany in 1982, and when she returned home to England, the idea caught on in her local yoga scene. Her father then worked with the German manufacturer, and voila! The first yoga sticky mat (apparently in white) was born.

Hugger Mugger gets the nod for being the first mass producer or yoga mats, sometime in the early 1990s. In other words, 20 years ago."

So the first mass-produced yoga mats came on the scene only, what, 20 years ago? Who knew? You know, this is kinda weird: I can almost swear that I've seen vintage videos of people doing yoga in the 50s or the 60s on sticky yoga mats! Well, this is probably just my mind projecting a reality that never existed... isn't it funny how we often see the reality that we want to see? I should write a post on this some day... In any case, all this musing about the origin of the sticky yoga mat got me really curious, and I decided to do a little research on my own. Not being as industrious as Steve is, I confined my research to looking for old yoga videos on Youtube, to see if people back then really did not do yoga on sticky mats. One of the videos I found was this video featuring this very charming lady by the name of Lilias Folan. Apparently, she was really big back in the early 70s, with her very own show on PBS. Check this out:


And it's true: They really didn't have sticky yoga mats back in the 70s! You may have noticed from the video that Lilias uses one of those bulky foldable gym mats. I mean, you would think that if they had yoga mats back in the day, a yoga celebrity like Lilias would have been using it, right?

As I was watching the video, another thought struck me: Lilias probably was to many yogis and yoginis of the time what somebody like Kino is to many of us now. Back in the day, they didn't have Youtube, so having your own program on PBS was probably the closest thing you can get to being a teacher that uploads her videos on Youtube. Interesting, no? 

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Maybe I should change the topic now: Some Lilias fans out there may be getting angry with me for comparing her to Kino even as I write this, and may be leaving some angry comments on this post... 

So let's change the topic. On a related note, one of Haruki Murakami's lead characters in his novel 1Q84 is a fitness instructor. She goes to her clients' homes to give them private lessons, and often brings a yoga mat to these sessions. But if Steve's research above is correct, then it appears that Murakami may have committed an anachronism, since mass-produced yoga mats technically would not have existed in the year 1984, which is when the novel is set... But wait! Actually, the novel was set in the year 1Q84, which is 1984 in an alternate universe (actually, this is not totally accurate; it's probably closer to the truth to say that time was "sidetracked" from 1984 to 1Q84. But whatever. I can't possibly do this notion any justice here. Go read the novel.). So maybe it's possible that mass-produced yoga mats existed in 1Q84, but not in 1984? Interesting... Well, maybe all this is interesting only to me. Like you care, right? Wow, I really must have no life, if I am spending my time blogging about little anachronisms in Haruki Murakami's novels. But seriously, I highly recommend 1Q84, if you haven't already read it. It's worth the time and the effort to plow through the almost 1000 pages. A little word of warning, though: If you are the sort of reader who likes every single detail in stories to be very clearly and rationally explained, and every little subplot to be neatly tied up at story's end, this may not be the novel for you. Reading this novel is a bit like a meditative exercise: You kind of have to go with the story, accept things that are not rationally explained (perhaps because they are not rationally explainable), and kind of go with the flow. Actually, doesn't this sound like yoga? :-)

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In other news: Erica over at Ecstatic Adventures of the Exuberant Bodhisattva has honored me and my blog with the Liebster Award. Liebster is German for "favorite", "dearest", or "beloved". Along with the award, she has sent me a free copy of her recent book, I Let Go. Thank you, Erica! I am very honored and humbled to think that people actually think enough of me and my random musings to give me an award :-) 

In her remarks on awarding me this honor, Erica writes: 

"Nobel is a fellow Ashtanga Fundamentalist whose musings I enjoy thoroughly.  Unlike me, he abstains from crotch jokes, but prepare to be delighted with some insightful scatological philosophy.  Other than that, however, Nobel’s writing is very reverent and eloquent.  I particularly appreciate his detailed and honest account of his own practice.  As far as I can tell, Nobel and I are at similar places in our practices, at least anatomically.  For this reason, I can relate to his struggles and victories.  Also like me, Nobel aspires to be a yoga bum and he is somewhat of a Kino MacGregor Groupie.  One day I hope that Nobel and I are able to follow our Yoga Bum dreams, perhaps together.  In the mornings we will do our practices and spend the day sitting on the beach is some holy seated position, wearing Kino Shorts of Course."

I endorse everything that Erica says about me here, except that last part about wearing Kino shorts. No offense to Kino or her shorts; in fact, I think they are beautiful, and I also think that Kino, along with many other people, look really good in them. But I can never imagine myself in Kino Shorts. Ever. At least not in this body. I mean, look, when was the last time you saw an Asian guy with thick tortoise-shell glasses wearing this: 



A bit hard to imagine, no? :-) But then again, they say that yoga makes the impossible possible, the possible easy, and the easy elegant. So I suppose anything's possible, in the end: Maybe the first siddhi I will gain from the practice will be the siddhi of looking good in Kino Shorts. Unlikely. But Possible.

Wow. This was a very all-over-the-place post. From the history of yoga mats, to Lilias Folan, to Haruki Murakami and 1Q84, to Kino Shorts. Quite a tour de force, wouldn't you say? :-)

13 comments:

  1. Wow, Lilias Folan! At the risk of carbon dating myself, I used to watch her PBS show as a kid and goof around along with it - it was my first exposure to yoga. Thanks for posting this.

    And, I am going out today to buy IQ84, you've convinced me to give it a shot. I love long books (Middlemarch, A Suitable Boy, and Black Lamb and Grey Falcon are all favorites.)

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    Replies
    1. I'm glad I am bringing back great childhood memories for you :-) And don't worry about carbon-dating yourself: Not having grown up in this country, I have only a very vague idea of when Folan was actively doing her PBS show :-)

      I really hope you enjoy 1Q84. You should share your impressions once you are into the book.

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  2. Thanks for the write-up, Nobel! Looks like I am not the only person to enjoy your musings. My book is much shorter than 1Q84. I remember we had to read a couple short stories by Murakami for my creative writing workshop. I really enjoyed them. Just getting back into reading novels these days. Perhaps I'll start with a shorter Murakami classic...

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    Replies
    1. Cool! Maybe you can try reading "Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World"? It's pretty crazy...

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  3. i think she was just using a yoga mat, not a "sticky" yoga mat. (i listened to the book so it is hard for me to check on this.) plus since it was translated to english, maybe the original was yoga rug?

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    Replies
    1. Yes, perhaps the original was yoga rug... not sure about this, as my Japanese is not up to par... And yes, it is possible that she was using a yoga mat, just not a sticky one :-)

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